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POLITICS: PennAve

State Department: Russia can still act to avoid sanctions

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Politics,White House,Russia,PennAve,Susan Crabtree,State Department,Vladimir Putin,Sanctions,Ukraine,Crimea

The Obama administration has yet to decide whether to impose economic sanctions on Russia over its takeover of Ukraine's Crimea region as it waits to see whether Moscow will de-escalate the situation.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the administration is working with Congress to prepare sanctions on Russia but Moscow still has an "off-ramp" available if it takes steps to withdraw its troops from Ukraine within the next couple of days.

“We are preparing a range of options in the event that Russia continues to move down this path,” Psaki said, “Obviously there is an opportunity for Russia to take a different path that would naturally impact the steps the administration would take.”

In response to reports that the administration plans to announce sanctions on Russia later this week, Psaki said only that officials are evaluating such a decision “day-by-day.”

Psaki's message that time is running out but Russia still has an opportunity to avoid U.S.-led efforts to pinch its already shaky economy contrasted with much stronger statements the same day from President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, who visited Kiev Tuesday.

Obama urged Moscow to withdraw troops from Ukraine and said their moves have “not been a sign of strength.”

“I actually think this has not been a sign of strength but rather is a reflection that countries near Russia have deep concerns and suspicions about this kind of meddling, and today they may have pushed many countries further way from Russia,” he said Tuesday at a budget event at a Washington, D.C., school.

Kerry went even further during his remarks, applauding Ukrainians for their courage in forcing out their Russian-allied president and strongly denouncing Moscow's decision to invade the Crimea region in response.

“We condemn the Russian Federation's act of aggression, and we have throughout this moment evidence of a great transformation taking place,” he said. “And in that transformation, we will stand with the people of Ukraine.”

The Treasury Department Tuesday morning announced an economic assistance package that will help the Ukrainian government restore financial stability and is working with Congress to provide $1 billion in loan guarantees to Kiev. In addition, the International Monetary Fund is developing an assistance package.

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